Pastor, Storyteller, Teacher, Activist
"Rev. Robert Jones is a masterful musician and filled the Carnegie with his magnificent voice. Everyone at Calliope is looking forward to his return to our stage."
Patricia Tanner, Executive Director
Calliope: The Pittsburgh Folk Music Society
Why you should know who he was--
"In the spring of 1976 I was nineteen years old and sitting in the, now closed, Grand Circus Theater in downtown Detroit. I was there to see a double feature. The second movie was “The Outlaw Josie Wales”, but the movie that I had gone to see was simply entitled, “Leadbelly”. The movie opened and closed without much fanfare, but the character portrayed has stayed with me for nearly thirty years.
Huddie “Lead Belly” Ledbetter was born on January 9, 1888 and he died on December 6, 1949, but in his 61 years on earth Lead Belly’s contribution to American music and culture was profound and lasting. Lead Belly was really one of America’s first folk performers.
Certainly there were many people playing and singing folk songs before Lead Belly, but Ledbetter was one of the first performers to combine storytelling, work songs, blues, ballads, children’s songs, spirituals, traditional and original songs in a way that was entertaining and engaging. Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, Josh White andBrownie McGhee all counted Lead Belly as a musical influence.
Lead Belly was the first American blues performer to make inroads in Europe and his song, “Goodnight Irene” sold more than one and half million copies the year following his death,
As legendary as he was as a performer, however, the story of his personal life was more unbelievable. Lead Belly went to prison four times in his life. He escaped once, with bullets flying by his ears. He sang his way into a pardon twice. In 1939 Lead Belly was sentenced to Riker’s Island for assault, but had his sentence shortened by a judge because he single-handedly foiled an armed robbery. On the other hand, Ledbetter hosted a radio show in on WNYC in New York.
He chauffeured and assisted the legendary John Lomax in pursuit of songs in southern prisons, and he performed in schools across the country, ranging from elementary schools to colleges like Princeton and Harvard. All of this happened during an era that included two World Wars, the Great Depression, and he wrote songs that addressed issues as diverse as racial discrimination in housing, Jim Crow laws, Adolph Hitler, Jean Harlow, and Howard Hughes.
People need to know about this great American personality and I feel privileged as a musician, a storyteller and (well) an actor to bring his story and his stories to 21st century audiences. Lead Belly’s songs like “Rock Island Line”, “On The Western Plains”, “Pick A Bale O’ Cotton”, “ Midnight Special”, “Goodnight Irene” and countless others have helped to shape American culture. I greatly enjoy the opportunity to introduce this legendary figure to the audiences that he has so greatly influenced."
Robert Jones, Sr., 2014
Woody Guthrie ,excerpt from "LEADBELLY Is A Hard Name", American Folksong, Oak Publications, 1961
Lead Belly Stories:
Lead Belly's life and legend was so rich that it provides a near endless source of stories and music. Through recordings, biographies, reminiscences and even a small amount of film Robert Jones has put together a one-man show that tells Leadbelly's story.
This is a show that gives insights into the life and legacy of this American folk music pioneer. Lead Belly was not only a great songster, he was also wonderful storyteller, a gifted instrumentalist, an iconic songwriter and a social activist. Lead Belly's story is one that is appropriate as a workshop presentation, in a storytelling festival, or as a theater piece.
Robert has said, "The challenge of recreating the music, style and personality of such a historic and significant figure has been both challenging and rewarding".
A sample of Lead Belly's stories include--
“Walking On Fannin Street”
“Me And Blind Lemon”
“Fightin’ Against Hitler”
“Livin’ In Harlem”
“Lead Belly: My Life” (One hour show)
For a YouTube clip of
"Lead Belly, An American Legend"--CLICK HERE
For bookings and more information:
Contact, Tamulevich Artist Management
Rev. Robert Jones has done his Lead Belly presentation for a variety of venues including--
The Henry Ford Museum, Dearborn, MI
The Calliope Folk Music Society, Pittsburgh, PA
The Ark Storytelling Festival, Ann Arbor, MI
The Ten Pound Fiddle, Lansing, MI
Mariposa Folk Festival,Orillia, ON, Canada (upcoming)
References available on request.